Dawn has yet to break as 130 motorbikes and a few pick-up trucks are loaded with boxes containing bars of soap and liters of chlorine. Their riders must leave as early as possible, in order to reach their destination and return to base prior to 3 p.m., as the rainy season makes the dirt roads they traverse virtually impassable later in the day. Every part of their trips has been meticulously planned by their manager, Moses Baraza. They know all too well that any delay will imperil the delivery of vital supplies intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across rural communities in Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi.
The riders and the rest of Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water team have been working non-stop for the past two months. In their previous two deliveries, they successfully distributed over 1,600 tons of soap and 34,000 liters of chlorine for disinfecting to thousands of rural communities. In total, the distributions have benefited more than 4 million people. With their next two deliveries set to be done by the end of June, they aim to increase that amount to over 2,300 tons of soap and 62,000 liters of chlorine.
“We have been working hard, harder than we had ever done so before,” says Baraza. “If it falls within the timeline we planned the activities, we work. Even today that is Eid Mubarak we made a delivery. We did deliveries during Easter Monday and Good Friday. I am just happy that [the Evidence Action team members] are willing to risk their lives just to serve the communities,” he says.
When the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 virus as a pandemic on March 11, the primary recommendation they gave to prevent the spread of the disease was to regularly wash your hands with soap. However, following that simple guidance is difficult for over 800 million people around the world who lack access to safe water. The problem is particularly severe in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, where treated water coverage is virtually non-existent.
Evidence Action was in a unique position to address this problem. Over the past seven years, we have built a far-reaching infrastructure to provide safe water through chlorine dispensers to millions of people in rural Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi. The program relies on a network of 56,000 volunteers called “promoters,” who are chosen by the communities we serve. Each of these promoters has been trained to maintain the dispensers and educate the users about the dangers of waterborne diseases.
During this unprecedented pandemic, we knew that by partnering with our promoters, we had the potential to distribute soap, provide disinfectant for commonly used surfaces in the community, and offer key hygiene education about COVID-19 to millions of people who otherwise would be hard to reach.
In a matter of weeks, staff across our offices formulated an emergency response. With the support of some generous funders and the governments of Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi, by April we delivered an initial run of soaps for use by our promoters and their counties’ local health clinics, and enough chlorine to provide communities with safe water for up to three months. Since then we have conducted another two rounds of deliveries of soap and disinfectant for the communities, and are currently conducting a third. The last round is planned for the end of June.
In the latest deliveries, the soap is brought directly to the promoters in each village, who then distribute it to the community members. “Immediately after our staff delivers to them, no matter if it is early in the morning or late in the afternoon, some of them start the work as soon as possible,” says Baraza. The promoters are also in charge of regularly disinfecting the dispensers and other commonly used surfaces in the community that pose a risk of spreading the disease if they were touched by someone who is sick.
Additionally, every promoter is trained by our staff about COVID-19, the symptoms and how they can protect themselves, and provided with informational material to distribute to the community members. As part of this support, we set up a call center to answer any questions the promoters have regarding the virus.
“A good challenge we have now is that there is more demand for soap in the villages than we can provide,” says Baraza. “The communities are really, really appreciative of this initiative. People now believe that handwashing is a solution for them”.
Learn more about our response and how we’re supporting the communities we serve in the blogs below: